A Definitive Ranking Of The Last 22 Super Bowl Halftime Shows

Photo; Chris Graythen/Getty Images; Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
This Sunday, at Super Bowl XLIX, expect deflated footballs and inflated egos as the Patriots battle the Seahawks and Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz rock the halftime show. Perry's performance will mark the 23rd since Super Bowl halftimes became a thing in 1993, when Michael Jackson used his inimitable artistry and a whole lot of pyro to reinvent the once-dull 15-minute break separating the two halves of the NFL’s annual championship game. Gone were the days of marching bands and lame production numbers — from '93 on, the Super Bowl halftime would become pop’s premier marketing opportunity, a chance for musical superstars young and old to play their hits for millions and move some product, just like the beer companies.

Things don’t always work out for the best (see: Jackson, Janet), but most Super Bowl headliners leave the field triumphant. The finest performances keep butts on couches during what might otherwise be a great time to nuke more nachos, and even the misfires give the world something to talk about for a few minutes. What follows is a definitive ranking of all 22 halftime shows since 1993. Grab some chips, watch the clips, read our quips, and marvel at how far the art of lip-syncing has progressed.
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22. 1995: Patti LaBelle & Tony Bennett Kick It Indy-Style

This is what happens when you hand Disney the reins. Because the entertainment mega-corp had a new theme-park attraction to plug, millions of viewers were subjected to "Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye," a bizarro stunt spectacular starring soul diva Patti LaBelle as a villainous jungle queen and a slightly befuddled Tony Bennett as a swanky nightclub crooner (not exactly a stretch). Jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and the Miami Sound Machine added some culture and class that was promptly washed away by a dude in a fedora not named Harrison Ford trying to steal the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
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21. 1997: The Blues Brothers Ride Again

The 1980 Blues Brothers movie is a classic that needed no sequel. The combo of James Belushi and John Goodman can't make up for the absence of late comedian John Belushi, who created this SNL-bit-turned-movie-franchise with Dan Aykroyd back in the '70s, and that made this opening number kind of a bummer. Luckily, Aykroyd and the gang had James Brown waiting in the wings, and he was his usual sweaty hurricane of screeching soul goodness. Brown, the Blues Bros., and ZZ Top closed with the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'," and the bonanza of beards, black suits, and brow sweat just about saved the day.
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20. 2000: Disney Starts The 21st Century On A Crappy Note

Once again, Disney was involved, and because the world had just survived the Y2K scare, this was a celebration of global brotherhood featuring Latin pop (Enrique Iglesias and Christina Aguilera), schmaltzy American balladry (Toni Braxton), and the nationless, flavorless song stylings of Phil Collins. Upon watching this halftime show, more than a few viewers returned to those bomb shelters they’d hunkered down in a few weeks earlier.
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19. 1998: Smokey & The Temps Deliver Oldies But (Pretty) Goodies

There's always something bittersweet about an oldies revue, but Smokey Robinson and the Temptations sounded pretty darn sweet at this celebration of Motown's 40th anniversary. Give Martha Reeves an A for effort for her lukewarm reading of "Heat Wave," and credit young-ish bucks Queen Latifah and Boyz II Men with nudging things into the '90s. In the end, the entire cast teamed up for a decent "Dancing in the Street," though it’s hard to focus on the music with all those carwash wind-puppet things flapping around in the background.
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18. 1996: Diana Ross Keeps Us Hanging On

On a night when "America's team," the Dallas Cowboys, won its third title in four years, one of the country's most enduring soul singers also took a victory lap. The official theme was the 30th anniversary of the Super Bowl, but packed with hits like "You Can't Hurry Love" and "You Keep Me Hanging On," this show was about Diana Ross’ legacy, not the NFL's. Not necessarily the hippest choice in 1996, but Ross was a classy one.
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17. 1994: Is It Twangy In Here?

After Michael Jackson's triumphant performance in 1993, there was only one place to go: down. Maybe that’s why the NFL went down-home and dreamed up "Rockin' Country Sunday," a country-pop rodeo featuring a lively Clint Black, a rollicking Tanya Tucker, and a show-stealing fringed blue-leather suit with Travis Tritt trapped inside. Also, the Judds, who performed just before a star-studded finale that saw Joe Namath singing alongside Stevie Wonder. Those guys should totally start a bro-country duo.
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16. 2010: Who's Onstage. (No, Really, Who Are These Guys?)

Where do you go after you've booked a Beatle (Paul McCartney) and the Rolling Stones? If you simply must continue with the British Invasion thing — and the NFL evidently felt compelled to do just that — you book the Who, even though they're nowhere near as big or beloved as those other two bands. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey rock pretty hard, thanks in part to Ringo Starr's kid Zak on drums, but it's hard to imagine too many viewers under the age of 45 getting overly excited about "Pinball Wizard" or "Won't Get Fooled Again." The Kinks will have their work cut out for them in 2019.
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15. 2011: No Dessert Until You've Had Your Peas

We've got a feeling that the night of February 6, 2011, was a good, good night to be a Green Bay fan, as the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25. It was a less spectacular evening for anyone sick of "I Gotta Feeling," the ubiquitous hit that opened this 13-minute force-feeding of Black Eyed Peas. Fortunately, side dish Usher turned up for "OMG," and that cleansed the proverbial palette. Unfortunately, Slash let Fergie pretend she was Axl on a rather sour "Sweet Child O' Mine." She doesn’t sing that "Where do we go? / Where do we go now?" part, probably because she knows America’s answer: to the kitchen for more nachos.
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14. 1999: Stevie Drives, Swing Lives, And No Pigs Are Spotted Overhead

Only in 1999 — and maybe 1942, had there not been a World War raging — could a band like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy have opened a Super Bowl halftime show. The zoot-suited swing revivalists got the crowd nice and jazzed for Stevie Wonder, who drove a car while singing "Sir Duke" and tap danced alongside Savion Glover to close "I Wish." And since the game was being played in Miami, Gloria Estefan got to dazzle a hometown crowd with her OG take on the Latin-pop sound then in fashion. The only thing that could have made this more 1999 would've been Limp Bizkit jamming with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones on a Mandy Moore cover.
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13. 2001: Wave "Bye Bye Bye" To America's Innocence

Life was so much simpler in early 2001, when *NSYNC, Aerosmith, and Britney Spears joined forces at the Super Bowl. Geopolitical stuff aside, Britney and Justin were still an item and Steven Tyler hadn't yet gotten mixed up with American Idol, because American Idol didn't yet exist. It was a time when singers became famous the old-fashioned way — by being really, really good looking — and the mix-mash of rock and hip-hop in "Walk This Way" still struck people as kind of novel. Fifteen years later, watching Timberlake and his crew rock out with Brit-Brit and the "bad boys from Boston" during the grand finale brings tears to the eye.
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12. 2003: Man, The NFL Felt Like It Was Just A Girl

In 2003, NFL stood for "now for ladies!" Shania Twain, the proto-Taylor Swift, opened that year’s halftime show with "Man, I Feel Like a Woman," and then Gwen Stefani and No Doubt came out and did their pop-feminist anthem, "I'm Just a Girl." The only dude onstage not standing in the background and playing an instrument was Sting, who dueted with Gwen on the Police classic "Message In a Bottle." Wisely, he made no effort to steal the spotlight, and those ridiculous black genie pants of his amounted to a white flag of surrender from men everywhere.
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11. 2008: Petty Is Steady As Ever

Four years after the Janet Jackson "nipplegate" debacle, the league was still thinking in terms of male classic rockers unlikely to flash their junk. Tom Petty was the safest of safe bets, and alongside faithful companions the Heartbreakers, rock's most dependable artist knocked out four stone-cold FM classics, including "American Girl" and "Free Fallin'." His performance wasn’t especially flashy or exciting, but it satisfied like a hot dog and a brew, and America went to bed without thinking dirty thoughts.
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10. 2006: The Stones Get More Satisfaction For Their Bank Accounts

The year the Super Bowl turned 40, the NFL tapped the ultimate middle-age band, the Rolling Stones, to do some slinky, bluesy, stadium-rock jams. The Stones were once a dangerous lot, but Mick and Keith have long since become businessmen, and there was no way they were going to jeopardize a massive payday by doing anything shady. More power to 'em. They even worked a new tune, "Rough Justice," into the middle of their set, perhaps giving their A Bigger Bang album a little sales bump.
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9. 2014: Bruno & Flea Take Us To Vegas

Aiming to be his generation's Prince, Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Elvis — all at the same time, all for the listening pleasure of teens and grandmas alike — Bruno Mars brought buckets of energy and Vegas show-band pizzazz to his Super Bowl set. On "Treasure," Bruno and the boys made like Kool & the Gang, while the ska-inflected finale of "Runaway Baby" made a fine segue into "Give It Away," starring the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This was quite a coup for a band that should've played the show years ago, and even though the Chilis took some heat for miming along with unplugged instruments, Flea issued a detailed explanation on the band’s website, explaining that their hands were tied, and that the goal was to "bring the spirit of who we are to the people." Mission accomplished.
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8. 2009: Bruce's Crotch Gets Its Close-Up

The streak of classic-rock halftime shows continued with the Bruce Springsteen, who proved a little edgier than anyone was expecting. After ordering America to "put down the guacamole dip," Springsteen capped opener "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" with a running knee-slide that pushed his groin right into the camera. The Boss looked amused — probably more so than league officials — and recovered nicely, leading the mighty E Street Band through "Born to Run," the nacho-cheesy new one “Working on a Dream,” and of course, "Glory Days." That last one is about being past your prime — something Bruce amazingly ain't.
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7. 2005: Paul McCartney Gets Us Back To Where We Once Belonged

The first post-Janet Super Bowl was all about a return to family-friendly entertainment, and the still-cuddly "cute Beatle" was the perfect choice. Interestingly, McCartney picked "Drive My Car" and "Get Back" as his openers, foregoing better-known Beatles tunes, and he followed those with "Live and Let Die," that collision of hard rock and reggae he cut with Wings in 1973. He ended, naturally, with "Hey Jude," and for the rest of the night, the world went around humming, "Na, na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na."
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6. 2002: U2 Forecasts A "Beautiful Day"

For the first time ever, the Super Bowl was being played in February, and that was due to the week of cancelled regular-season games following the 9/11 attacks. The halftime show demanded an act that could pay sincere tribute to the fallen while lifting the living with bold rock 'n' roll showmanship, and for that job, only one band was qualified. U2's "Beautiful Day" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" are uniquely built for situations like this, and when Bono opened his jacket to reveal an American flag lining, even hardcore cynics got a little misty.
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5. 2012: Madonna Vogues And M.I.A. Flips A Very Costly Bird

Whether league officials were finally ready for another female headliner or had simply run out of pop stars massive enough to play the Super Bowl, the NFL deserves credit for booking Madonna. If anyone was liable to pull another Janet and do something shady, it was Madge, though like the Stones before her, she put professionalism above all else and kept things pretty squeaky. The only controversy came via M.I.A., who flashed a middle finger that wound up costing her undisclosed millions in an NFL lawsuit.
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Photo: Theo Wargo/WireImage.
4. 2007: Prince Scores Big With Foos Cover, Austin Powers Gag

The most daring choice in the run of post-wardrobe-malfunction guitar acts, Prince destroyed with his funky, sexy, hard-rocking mélange of hits ("Let's Go Crazy," "Purple Rain") and covers ("We Will Rock You," "Proud Mary"). If the coolest moment wasn't his take on the Foo Fighters' "Best of You," it was when he appeared in silhouette behind a white screen and presented his guitar as an extension of his manhood. Good luck finding footage, though. The Purple One seems to have stricken all videos from YouTube — further proof he's still a baller.
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3. 2013: Beyoncé Rules The World, Obviously

Strong, confident, and sexy as hell, Beyoncé sent an important message with this performance. There was no 'feminist' sign or explicit proselytizing, but as Queen Bey ruled over her female band, led a troupe of lady dancers, and reunited with her Destiny's Child sisters, she showed that a young black woman could play for a global audience and absolutely kill it. She's the gold standard by which all future Super Bowl comers, male and female, will henceforth be judged.
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2. 2004: Janet Jackson Takes An Unfair Fall

The theme of this halftime show was "Rock the Vote," and that pro-democracy message is beyond ironic in light of what happened. This, of course, was the year Justin Timberlake tore away a piece of Janet Jackson's costume at the end of "Rock Your Body" and exposed — gasp — her nipple for a few seconds. The "wardrobe malfunction" overshadowed the truly distasteful parts of the show — you know, the ones involving Kid Rock — and led to an FCC crackdown on all content deemed even moderately offensive. The racial and gender politics fueling the government's overreaction (not to mention the media's light treatment of Timberlake) continue to stir debate, but one thing's for damn sure: That utopian "Rhythm Nation" Janet sang about remains complete and utter fantasy.
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1. 1993: Michael Jackson. The King Of Pop And Pigskin.

Behold, Michael atop the Jumbotron! Now he's on the other one. Now he's onstage at the 50-yard line, standing perfectly still, holding millions of people in suspense without even twitching a muscle. That's how it went down the first couple minutes of MJ's 1993 halftime show, "an unprecedented Super Bowl spectacular," as announcer James Earl Jones put it, that made this event what it is today. A year earlier, Fox had stolen a bunch of viewers with a special live episode of In Living Color, and in order to prevent a repeat, the NFL returned with the kind of over-the-top pop show only a Jackson can deliver. Still a couple years away from crossing the weirdness Rubicon, Jacko danced up a storm on "Jam" and "Billie Jean" and got all warm and fuzzy with "Heal the World." He was even more impressive than the Cowboys, who creamed the Bills 52-17.
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